Lucinda Williams

West (Lost Highway)

A marked improvement over 2003's overpraised World Without Tears, West finds Williams at perhaps her most lyrical and deeply poetic. She calls it her "most revealing" record to date. That means this is not a disc you throw on when friends are over on a Friday night playing quarters, but rather one you let languidly unfurl over you in the dark with a glass of wine—actually, several glasses. Like much of her catalog, West deals mostly with the twin towers of lust and loss. Williams exudes more boner-popping erotic tension with the simple drawl of her consonants than an army of Fergies can do with all their tits a-shaking. On "Unsuffer Me," she's the boat guide on the River Styx of sexual obsession, with her pleas for sweet pain bolstered by the sinister strings and a dirty guitar solo. And on "Come On," she taunts the lover who talks big but can't deliver the big O in a withering put-down worthy of her hero, Bob Dylan: "You weren't even worth it/I'm sorry I even flirted/The effort wasn't even concerted."

Many of these songs were directly influenced by true events in her life: the sordid end of (yet another) tumultuous romantic relationship ("Are You Alright?" "Learning How to Live") and the death of her mother ("Mama You Sweet," "Fancy Funeral"). Williams is just as much Flannery O'Connor as Loretta Lynn in terms of her songwriting, and her true gift of creating vivid characters and situations is in particular abundance here. West's most offbeat track is also the longest—the more-than-nine-minute "Wrap My Head Around That." The one-line summary is, of course, "Lucinda raps about the world's problems." But the track has much more in common with the hypnotic, hip-hop-flavored remixes of R.L. Burnside. The result is oddly, forcefully compelling.

 
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